Understanding without noticing words—that’s the name of the game. Anything not attached to an experience is worthless. But can we really ignore words?Several paragraphs later:
The answer I found is best explained with these two words: ‘wonder’ and ‘grow’. Words have to grow—gradually. Experience by experience. And the mechanism of growing in each experience is ‘wondering’. The experience is the cheese. But there’s a hole in it. A fledgling word floats by and you wonder: ‘Might that word fill that hole and take its meaning from it?’ Click! Let me expand the two words to five. Experience, hole, word, wonder, and grow. The word grows a new ring of meaning with each experience. Like an onion.And a few more examples are given and then:
So the big question as we started the NA course was “What do we do about voca-bulary?” And three years later I got the answer. “Nothing!” Don’t teach words at all. Don’t even call attention to them. Just let the students wonder. Just let the words grow.So, in order to learn words and grow our vocabulary, we need to be paying attention and wondering. That is to say, thousands of hours of TV or audio on in the background, is not the figure you want to go for. While it does add to the amount of time that you do pay attention, it's not the target. Having the TV on in your target language helps, but only the time actually spent paying attention can count towards the number of hours that you have worked toward your goal.
This is why I've stopped recording my Japanese TV hours. Out of the 300+ hours that I put in, I don't know how many of those were hours spent actually paying attention. It shouldn't matter to anybody here anyway because my Japanese methods have not been one single method that could prove anything. I just need to keep the TV on so that I will increase the number of hours actually watching it. When I get back to Chinese, I will keep those hours purely focused on the content so I can wonder and grow.
What happens when you don't learn naturally?
What happens to all those words that you don't wonder and grow? Where does all that vocabulary go when you use an output-based approach to learn a language? Let's look at a couple of examples.
The first example is Tim Ferriss. He says he's reactivating Chinese. I guess "language reactivation" is necessary when you don't really learn a language in 3 months.
I began reactivation of irretrievable German just over a week ago and can already hold a decent conversation. - September 20th, 2007
This volume covers our trip preparation, Pu-erh tea cakes, and basic Mandarin language reactivation. - July 12th, 2009
Learning new languages and reactivating old ones (in this case, Mandarin Chinese). - August 12th, 2009At 24:50 in his video from Aug. 12, 2009, he pulls out the Living Language Chinese book. As you know, a book for beginners. He thinks only using Chinese to learn Chinese is ridiculous (27:20).
The second example comes from a well-intended fellow trying to learn Czech to fluency in 3 months. He also uses an output approach. (He probably read too much Tim Ferriss material.) His name is Benny Lewis.
After living in Spain for one year and successfully having reached a pretty good level of Spanish, I moved to Germany for 2 months (to practise the German that I had learned in school), then Italy for 3 months.
To make matters worse I was completely forgetting my Spanish, Italian and German (and in fact, I never did get my German back; that will be another 3-month mission some day!) After all the work I put into speaking these languages, it was depressing that I was back to square one and not even able to piece together basic sentences again!
Why not just translate?
If you translate and then one day stop using the language, you would end up like Tim or Benny. Here's what Dr. Brown said about why you should not use translations:
Because it would then get stacked in the pantry as a memorized unit—instead of glued in the web by wonder to every experience it had ever appeared in. Whenever you wanted to access it for the rest of your life, you would have to go to the pantry. That translation would have killed that word for life. That’s the difference between artificial language (on the shelf) and real (in the web).
What happens when you do learn naturally?
Now let's look at an example of taking a break from natural learning. Another excerpt from Dr. Brown's book:
One day during our second year of operation, a student returned from a three-month break in his native Australia where he hadn’t heard a word of Thai. He said that he had probably forgotten a lot and had better repeat NA 2. I told him that you never forget natural learning. He could take NA 3 and he would find that he was right where he left off. Two days later he came in to see me. “You were wrong, you know. I wasn’t right where I left off. I was way ahead.” I couldn’t explain it. Then a few months later another student reported the same experience. Then another. I was mystified.This is why I am not worried about the break I am having to take from Chinese. I am not worried about language atrophy. I am interested in seeing if I will be understanding better than before. Although I do not experience the language directly, I feel I do experience it through what I see and hear. On TV you can see and hear a lot too.
Finally it happened to me. After I had studied natural Swatow for 8 months, my teacher took a 5-month trip to the States. When she came back I felt like I was on a whole new level.